Outback Steakhouse Is Using AI to Improve Customer Service in Its Restaurants

Restaurants are used to dealing with negative Yelp reviews from disgruntled customers, but one chain is taking steps to mitigate the problem before its customers head to Yelp. Outback Steakhouse is implementing artificial intelligence technology from Presto, a staffing optimization software provider, at several restaurants run by Evergreen Restaurant Group, one of its franchise groups.

Presto's technology requires cameras to be placed discreetly in a restaurant’s lobby, where it can then capture hosts’, waiters’, and customers’ actions, analyzing how they behave and interact to improve customer satisfaction. For example, the technology can pick up on long wait times, the cleanliness of a lobby, and the number of customers who end up leaving without ever being greeted by staff. 

"Managers can't be everywhere at all times," Presto founder and CEO, Rajat Suri, told CNBC, so the technology helps them have eyes on situations and locations where they normally wouldn’t have consistent visibility. Suri, who previously helped cofound Lyft, says that "connecting tech with primitive physical experiences" like transportation or restaurants is a passion of his, and he hopes this technology will improve the way that restaurants serve their customers—before they even get to the table. 

Outback Steakhouse isn't the first company to experiment with this kind of technology. Cashierless Amazon Go stores similarly use machine learning to keep track of customers entering or leaving the store and buying items. 

For customers concerned about privacy and their personal data being collected, Suri says that Presto deletes any data captured by cameras after 30 days, and that even in that time period, no personally identifiable information is tracked or recorded. Not only is privacy a top priority for Presto, but also, practically speaking, applying facial recognition in this context can be too complicated and take too long, he explains. 

"It's very important to us that the whole ecosystem feels very secure about this tech," he said.

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